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Galleries| Cate McQuaid

Weather, worship, and whimsy

Georgie Friedman

It’s easy to get caught up in the sheer phenomenology of Georgie Friedman’s increasingly ambitious video installations, but there’s more to them than that.

Her newest one, “Eye of the Storm,” at Roberts Gallery in Lesley University’s Lunder Arts Center, leads you through a dark room around skewed and undulating screens, over which clouds rush and whirl.

Then you step into a vortex. A funnel-shaped screen surrounds you, and clouds tumble by at a ferocious rate. Audio, which Friedman composed with Jere Friedman, moans quietly, then grows commanding. You’re not on the ground, pummeled by rain and wind, but aloft at the still, charged center of the spiraling storm.

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I stood for a few minutes, absorbing the drama, processing climate-change anxiety, and feeling small yet godlike in my placement amid the black-and-white clouds. Only then did I notice how they softened, then spiked, and suddenly their motion and form appeared to be the quick work of a giant, ink-soaked brush, painting around me.

Friedman often uses sky and weather scenes to refer to basic building blocks of art. Witness her “Sky Study, No.1,” down the street in Lesley’s VanDernoot Gallery. Three screens depict a rectangle of sky in a way that echoes work by light artist James Turrell. They’re side by side, and the mere juxtaposition thrusts them into abstraction. The hint of a grid, patterns of color and form: Blue, gray, gray with a pale orb.

Each screen slowly shifts. The contemplative pace may lull you into thinking nothing much will happen. Then something does, and eye and mind reorient, sorting out the new relationships, the new whole. It’s candy for the mindful viewer.

Friedman breaks weather down, manipulating it as if it were a few color swatches or brushstrokes, even as she plugs into the elemental power it has over us as critters on this earth.

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Framing time’s traces on temples

Laura McPhee has been photographing Kolkata for more than 15 years. Carroll and Sons has mounted an exhibition of her photos of the last decade, a nod to her inclusion in “Seeing the Elephant,” an exhibition of international artists depicting India at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

McPhee seeks out majesty in her large-scale photographs, whether in landscapes or portraits. Her Kolkata images are dense with texture and information. Her interiors here seek out the palimpsest of history — glimpses of layers including family life, religious life, traces of British colonialism, and its roots in trade and the Dutch East India Company.

“Fists of the Goddess Kali, Destroyer of Evil, Kali Temple, Howrah” shows a cleverly composed fraction of a wall. A sculptural installation of the goddess’s fierce blue fists cuts diagonally above elegantly patterned pink-and-white tiles that might be Dutch, upon which someone has stuck a Kali decal. At the bottom, the tops of old portraits — each detail evidence of what has been valued in this temple over the years.

Her exteriors are equally lush. McPhee shot the diptych “Siva Temples, Tollygunge, Kolkata, India” earlier this year. Three old temples made of crumbling stone and brick squat cheek by jowl, with trees growing from their roofs, roots clinging to their contours. One temple’s door looks barred; another is dark behind a clothesline strung with fabrics. The third temple is lighted with garlands out front and pictures of deities flanking its doors.

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We think of photographs as catching singular moments. McPhee’s India photos capture time’s accretions and culture’s tides. She and Sona Datta, the Peabody Essex Museum’s curator of Indian and South Asian art, will give a talk at the gallery on Oct. 27.

From playful to process-oriented

Michelle Samour’s playful exhibition “It’s Biological,” at Suffolk University Gallery, starts with her frothy installation “Life Inside the Mountain,” in which warmly pigmented paper-pulp constructions float across two walls. Blobs and strands twist and overlap; concentric circles waft through. It’s airy, sweet, and uncomplicated.

The show takes root, however, with two process-oriented pieces. The photo series “Out of My Mind” depicts bulletin boards upon which the artist tacks her work alongside newspaper stories, illustrations of June bugs, color charts, and photos of jellyfish and sculptures.

For “Windows,” Samour has made plexiglass tiles containing paper pulp designs — loose, funky grids, polka dots — and left dozens of them out on a light box for visitors to layer, juxtapose, and create their own concoctions.

Samour also has a video on view of her at work. There’s a shelf of natural inspirations for her forms: coral, shells, acorns, as well as books, and microscopes with slides, which rhyme with the glass slides in “Windows.”

The photos and these source objects reveal the artist’s taxonomy: correlations of form and color, associations you or I might not make. In the jumble on her bulletin board, we recognize the rich compost from which her other work springs, and the structure she imposes on seeming chaos. Still, in her art, a little more complication and chaos — denser tangles, more layering perhaps — would be welcome.

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GEORGIE FRIEDMAN: Eye of the Storm

At Roberts Gallery, Lunder Arts Center, Lesley University, 1801 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, and VanDernoot Gallery, University Hall, Lesley University,

1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge,

through Nov. 1. 617-349-8010, www.lesley.edu/college-art-and-design

LAURA MCPHEE: The Home and the World

At Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through Oct. 31.617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net

MICHELLE SAMOUR: It’s Biological

At Suffolk University Gallery, 75 Arlington St., through Oct. 31. 617-994-4283, www.suffolk.edu/nesad/gallery


Cate McQuaid can be reached at cate
mcquaid@gmail.com
. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.